- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Sgt. 1st Class Juanita Wilson yesterday stood at stoic attention on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — a patriotic portrait of a soldier ready to give so much more for her country.

“From the day of my injury, I never thought I was departing the military,” said Sgt. Wilson, an Army reservist from Rosedale, Md., who lost her left hand two years ago while serving in Iraq. “It’s an honor for me to be an American soldier. I’m very proud to wear the uniform.”

Sgt. Wilson was among nearly 40 Army reservists from across the country who re-enlisted yesterday during a ceremony on the west Capitol steps overlooking the Mall.

The Army has boasted of ballooning re-enlistment numbers. At the end of February, the active Army had enlisted 109 percent of its goal, while the Army National Guard reached 106 percent of its goal, officials said.

The Army Reserve reached 91 percent of its goal for the same period, statistics show, but attained 102 percent of its aim for fiscal 2005.

Basking in the early spring sunshine, a throng of family members and curious tourists listened to Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, administer the oath of service and pronounce the reservists as “real American heroes.”

“Thank you for serving as American soldiers,” Gen. Helmly told the group, which included a youth pastor, a police officer and a student, many of whom had already served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I’m proud to serve with you.”

For the reservists, the re-enlistment was a chance to serve their country once again.

“It’s the simple fact of being part of the greatest Army in the world and providing freedom everywhere we go,” said Sgt. Omar Marquez of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sgt. Wilson, 31, lost her hand when a roadside bomb exploded on her company’s return trip from a logistical mission. She now recounts the experience in a rote style that belies the pain she endured and overcame.

“I really didn’t realize anything was wrong with me,” she said. “I started feeling a burning and tingling, and I checked down and my hand was a loss.

“My loss … it’s minute compared to what some people have gone through.”

Sgt. Wilson spent much of her recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, where she is now stationed.

Yesterday, her husband and 7-year-old daughter walked to the platform with her to receive her re-enlistment contract.

“I’m very proud of her,” said Charles Wilson, 29, who recently enlisted in the active Army. “She’s been through a whole lot.”

After the ceremony, Sgt. Wilson said she would readily go wherever the Army sends her — even back to Iraq.

“I love America enough to die for it,” she said. “I will take my orders, I will salute and I will follow.”

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